Shelby Mahurin

Hey there, everyone! Now that the craziness of Pitch Wars has finally died down, I have a little time to blog about it. So—go make some popcorn and get comfortable because I have Many Thoughts ™.

If you know how Pitch Wars works, feel free to skip this paragraph. If you don’t, all the information you need about the contest can be found at But if you don’t feel like clicking the link (heh, this was me last year), here’s the crash course: the magnanimous Brenda Drake rounds up a slew of agented writers each year to act as mentors for those who may need help with their manuscripts before querying. If you’re chosen by a mentor, you’ll revise heavily (or not-so-heavily, if you’re lucky—HA, I wasn’t, but more on that later) for two months before being showcased in the AGENT ROUND. Cue dramatic music. The agent round is basically querying on crack. All the mentee submissions are posted on the Pitch Wars site by age category, and agents request additional material by commenting on your post. SO—very public, very emotional, and very terrifying.

I first read about Pitch Wars on Brenda Drake’s website, which I was visiting for more information on #PitMad, which I read about in the Guide to Literary Agents 2017. So, it’s legit. Brenda Drake is legit. The whole system is legit. Shortly thereafter, I started following the Pitch Wars hashtag on Twitter obsessively and stalking—er, researching the mentors. I combed through their wish lists the night they went live. I made a spreadsheet about their likes and dislikes. I watched the live chats. I tweeted them if I had questions. But most importantly, I interacted with my fellow Pitch Wars hopefuls. Again, this is IMPORTANT. Because even if you don’t get in, you’ll make writerly friends, and WRITERLY FRIENDS ARE IMPORTANT. They’re different than your real life friends. They understand the struggle. They’ll celebrate your triumphs with you because they get it, and they’ll comfort you when you’re rejected BECAUSE THEY GET IT. Writing is deeply personal. It’s raw. It’s emotional. You need people in your corner who understand the incredible highs and lows of writing as a career, the elation that comes when someone connects with your book and the inevitable heartache that comes when they don’t. I met one of my best friends in Pitch Wars this year, and we still talk across multiple platforms (#millenials) every single day. Even if you don’t get in, the Pitch Wars community is worth applying. Seriously. You won’t regret it.

When the submission window finally rolled around, I submitted to my six mentors and waited on bated breath. I checked the #PWTeaser tag every three seconds, and I tried not to read into my potential mentors’ teasers. My eventual mentor, Jamie Howard, posted some particularly brutal ones. (Side bar: I still have a couple screenshots of her teasers that I swear were about me, but I haven’t worked up the nerve to ask her—LOL.) By the end of the submission window, four out of six mentors had requested my full, but I still wasn’t sure whether my name would be on the mentee list. More than one horror story had floated around Twitter about previous hopefuls getting requests and no mentor. I convinced myself I would be one of these horror stories. When my name showed up next to Jamie’s on Decision Day, I couldn’t believe it. Seriously, I think I stared at the screen for at least a minute before shrieking and calling my mom. And the rest, as they say, is history.

But let’s peek behind the curtain for a second because if you’re seriously considering entering Pitch Wars, you need to know what’s in store—and that’s WORK. Everyone says this, but for some reason, I didn’t take it seriously. I didn’t think my book would need the total overhaul that previous mentees tweeted about. My book was a masterpiece, a pièce de résistance of wit, romance, and emotion. Though I didn’t kid myself into thinking that it was the next Harry Potter or even Six of Crows, I did think it only needed a light dusting to make it shine. HA. How very wrong I was.

I had no idea the amount of time and energy I’d end up pouring into LA DAME BLANCHE when I signed up for Pitch Wars, but let me reiterate—it was WORK. That being said, it was worth it. One hundred percent worth it. One thousand percent worth it. Jamie’s suggestions were all gold. Each and every one of them strengthened my manuscript. Did they sting initially? Yes. Were they necessary? Absolutely. Jamie spotted problems in my manuscript I was unable/unwilling to see, and she collaborated with me on ways to fix them. Because—contrary to my naive, pre-Pitch Wars beliefs—my manuscript didn’t need a light dusting. It needed ripped apart and sewn back together. Just to give you a taste, here are some of the things we worked on in our two month window:

  • Adding my second protagonist’s point of view throughout
  • Rewriting the entire manuscript in first person
  • Eliminating five—FIVE— side characters
  • Developing my magic system
  • Tightening the central plot (we went from 94K words to 124K back to 103K words)
  • Deepening the romance
  • Giving my protagonist goals

The list goes on an on. Looking back, I have no idea how I managed to edit this beast of a book in two months, especially as I’m the slowest writer on the planet. I drank a lot of 5 Hour Energy and swung a lot of all-nighters. Thankfully, Jamie was there every step of the way—and has continued to be a plethora of knowledge and support even after the agent round ended last month. Seriously, I feel like Charlie when he found his Golden Ticket every time she texts me, but I digress.

Basically, if you take anything away from this rambling blog post, I hope it’s one of two things (but preferably both):

  1. You won’t regret applying to Pitch Wars even if you aren’t chosen. The support within this community is incredible. AT WORST, you’ll gain a new CP or beta reader (and probably a shinier query/first pages because of the forums and mentor critique giveaways).
  2. If you are chosen, get ready to work. Every manuscript can be improved, and these mentors know their business. Don’t approach this contest seeking validation of your work. Approach this contest seeking to better it.

I’m thinking about getting this blog up and going for real, so my next post will be about the AGENT ROUND. Cue dramatic music again. More specifically, it’ll be about how I got my agent from the agent round. Because, spoiler: I GOT AN AGENT FROM THE AGENT ROUND. AND SHE IS AMAZING. AND I’M EXPECTING MY EDIT LETTER FROM HER NEXT WEEK. AND SHE WANTS TO GO ON SUBMISSION VERY SOON.


Until next time!

x Shelby